Juba 1 February 2018 – South Sudan faces a high burden of acute respiratory infections that currently account for at least one-third of outpatient consultations with children under five years being the most affected. South Sudan is yet to initiate influenza surveillance to determine the current influenza burden and identify the types of influenza circulating.
To strengthen the capacity to detect, investigate and respond to seasonal and pandemic influenza, the Ministry of Health (MoH) with support from the World Health Organization is establishing influenza sentinel surveillance sites. These sites are being set up in selected health facilities around the country, including public and private hospitals outpatient clinics; UN clinics that treat expatriate workers; and clinics/hospitals serving vulnerable populations like internally displaced populations. The initial sites will be established in Juba.
These sentinel sites will collect epidemiological information and laboratory specimens for in-country influenza testing and the provision of high-quality data required to inform influenza planning, preparedness, and timely response. Influenza surveillance will also facilitate fulfillment of the International Health Regulations (IHR, 2005) through regular sharing of influenza epidemiological and virological data including the notification of cases caused by novel influenza sub-types.
The influenza sentinel sites are integrated into the existing Integrated Disease Surveillance and Response (IDSR) system that provides for detection and response to Severe acute respiratory infection (SARI) and influenza-like illness (ILI), the two syndromes used to detect and investigate possible influenza cases.
To kick start the rollout, a five-day influenza sentinel surveillance training was conducted in Juba from 28 January to 1 February 2019 for 42 health workers including clinicians, laboratory experts, surveillance officers, and data clerks, drawn from five selected health facilities in Juba. These health workers will be responsible for setting up and running the surveillance sites and testing of samples in the National Public Health Laboratory (NPHL). WHO through the Pandemic Influenza Preparedness Framework supported the training.
According to Dr Olu Olushayo, the WHO Country Representative for South Sudan, ‘the influenza sentinel surveillance will reinforce the Integrated Disease Surveillance and Response (IDSR), in line with the IHR (2005) requirements. He reiterated WHO’s commitment to supporting enhanced national capacities for influenza surveillance to inform evidence-based planning to improve influenza preparedness and response.
The national influenza sentinel surveillance network will consist of designated sentinel surveillance sites, the national influenza laboratory in NPHL, and the national surveillance unit in the MoH. In light of the stringent cold chain requirements associated with influenza samples, sample collection will initially be limited to hospitals and clinics in Juba.
Mr Mathew Tut Moses, Director of Emergency Preparedness and response in the Ministry of Health acknowledged that a robust influenza surveillance system will facilitate timely notification of unusual cases of influenza to allow early initiation of containment interventions, treatment and vaccination strategies. He appreciated the support from WHO and other partners.
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) and other partners continue to support the surveillance system in South Sudan.
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